If you've ever been to Camp Fairhaven, you've probably met Dunkin. Dunkin is not a person, he's a dog. He belongs to Dave, who is currently one of the directors at the camp.
I've never seen a dog quite like Dunkin. I've never seen a dog so devoted to his master. If Dave is in the camp office, Dunkin will stand just outside the office door and stare at him. Doesn't matter if Dave is in there for three hours; Dunkin is content to stare for three hours.
Dunkin follows Dave everywhere. Once, when Dave ended up on the opposite side of the lake from Dunkin, Dunkin didn't wait for Dave to come get him -- he swam all the way accross the lake to get back to Dave.
If I opened the door of my car and Dave opened the door of his truck, I have no doubt which vehicle Dunkin would get in. If I stood there and called him by name, I still have no doubt which vehicle he would get in. And, if I stood there and called him by name while holding a doggie treat for him, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would still get in Dave's truck instead of my car.
This is devotion, pure and simple. And in Deuteronomy 6:5, we are told that we should be wholeheartedly devoted to God. We should have the same love and devotion that Dunkin has toward Dave. For us, there should be no one else who steals our attention and devotion from God.
But how often does Satan hold out a "doggie treat" (temptation) to me and say, "Here, Doug!" and I have no qualms about getting on board with him?
I want to be so devoted to God that when Satan tries to get my attention, I don't even stop to consider the possibility of betraying God.
One of the hymns I enjoy singing in church is "Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul." It's a hymn that has a nice little echo part on the chorus ("filled my soul/made me whole/filled my soul"). The echo part is sung by the tenors and the altos.
Unfortunately, in our church, not many people are confident enough singers to do those echo parts, so you usually can't hear it very well. But last night was kind of interesting...
From where I was sitting, I couldn't hear any women singing the echo part, except on the "s" of "soul." "S" sounds tend to cut through a mix of sound (which is why recording studios have "de-essers").
But here's what was interesting about hearing this "s" sound: I was sitting on one side of the church, and my parents were sitting a couple pews away on the other side of the church, but even as far away as I was from them, the moment I heard that "s" sound, I thought "Oh, my mother is singing the echo part."
Now, I never would have thought that my mother's voice is that distinctive, and I certainly wouldn't have guessed that I could recognize her voice just from an "s" sound!
And then I got to wondering...would anyone else there at church have recognized her voice just from that one sound? Probably my dad, and my brother, but I doubt any other people would have picked her voice out of the crowd. Why? Because they don't know her voice as well as we do. For the first eighteen years of my life, I grew up hearing her voice every day, and I know her voice. Not many people know her voice that well.
Then, this morning, I bumped into Jerry, and we got talking about his grandchildren. He has two granddaughters who are identical twins -- Erica and Lindsay. Jerry said, "My wife can tell them apart, just from hearing their voices on the telephone." Amazing...it's enough of a challenge for me to tell them apart when I can see them!
This all made me think of something Jesus said in John 10:
Interesting, isn't it? Jesus says that his sheep will recognize his voice, but they won't recognize the voice of strangers. The implication is that Jesus is not a stranger to us. How many people expect to hear the voice of God in their lives, but are not willing to get to know the shepherd?
To know Jesus, to understand who He is, and to immerse yourself in the stories of His life, His death, and His resurrection, as found in the gospels and epistles, this should be one of our deepest desires and goals in life.
It doesn't come naturally -- a year ago I wouldn't have had a hope of telling Erica and Lindsay apart, but as I get to know them better, I recognize the differences between them more and more. So it is with Jesus -- the better I know Him, the more easily I will recognize His leading in my life.
It is one of my habits and practices in Bible reading that, no matter what else I might be reading in scripture, I plan to read through each of the gospels at least once during the year, so I never forget the voice of our Savior and our Shepherd.
My freshman year in college, I took Physics 121, which was the introductory-level physics course, required for all engineering majors. It was a "weed out" class, which meant it was intended to be difficult enough to "weed out" the people who either weren't serious about study, or weren't able to keep pace.
Tests were graded out of 120 points, and anything above 55 points was considered passing. Another way of saying that: if you got 46%, you were passing! Still, half the class was always in danger of failing.
Because I had an incredibly strong background in physics from high school, my college-level class didn't teach me anything new until about halfway through the second semester. While my classmates were struggling, I was coasting along, getting 110, 115 points per test.
It wasn't long before I had classmates hanging out in my room on nights before physics tests, asking for my help. I was always glad to give them help, and they knew that I wouldn't steer them wrong.
Imagine, though, if every time I explained a problem to someone, they had said to me, "Well, that's a nice idea, but I think this way will work just as well..." And then they proceeded to use a different method, arriving at a different answer.
Don't you imagine that after a while, I would say, "Excuse me, but if you're not ever going to listen to what I tell you, why are you even bothering to ask?"
This is the attitude James warns about:
James tells us: don't come to God asking for wisdom, and then just ignore the wisdom which he gives. The problem is, we often don't like the advice we get, so we try to set it aside. But James says, if you ask God for wisdom, and then ignore what He shows you, you're unstable, and will make no progress in life!
The good news is that, as happy as I always was to give advice and help to my classmates, God is even more eager to give to us; James says that He "gives generously." How great to know that God is not only all-knowing, but generous to boot!
When I was a high school math teacher, I remember vividly one algebra one test I gave. As I was correcting the students' papers, I noticed that one student had put virtually no "work" on her paper; only answers. Then, as I corrected her paper, I began to realize that some of her incorrect answers looked very familiar.
Flipping back through the papers I had already corrected, I found a paper with identical answers. In some cases, the first paper had a wrong answer because the student had made a foolish addition mistake (7+8=16, for example). Yet even in these cases, the second student had an identical answer.
Accordingly, since it was exceedingly evident that one student had directly copied answers from the other, I gave that student a zero on the test. Since I had no way of knowing whether the other student was innocent of wrongdoing, I acted in accordance with my "optimism principle," which states, "When in doubt, assume the best." I gave the first student the score earned based on the answers and work given.
Interestingly, the second student's mother had her own "optimism principle" as well. Faced with the possibility that her daughter might have cheated, she chose to assume the best. Especially since she did not know me, or have any reason to believe me over her daughter.
It was not until I showed her the photocopies of the tests that she acknowledged that her daughter was in the wrong.
Why do I tell this story? Because it illustrates an aspect of love which we must emulate. According to 1 Corinthians 13:7, love believes and hopes all things. It is my "optimism principle" in action. When in doubt, assume the best.
Unfortunately, human nature is bent toward assuming the worst. For us it is safer; we are less likely to be hurt or betrayed if we assume the worst. Yet I believe it is better to assume the best and be disappointed or betrayed than to destroy our relationships from the very beginning by assuming the worst.
And if we are hurt in the process, let us remember the love of Christ, which took Him through deeper pain than we could ever dream.